Yep, we’re going to give you the definitive digital planning guide for beginners. This is everything you need to get started and will help improve your digital planning. It includes: a free planner to try out, instructions on importing your digital planners, app recommendations and suggestions to community resources.
1. What is a digital planner?
Digital planners are digital versions of paper planners, diaries and journals and can be used on tablets, computers and phones. They are best used on a touchscreen tablet with a stylus so they can be used in the same way as a regular planner but have additional functionality such as duplicating pages instantly, inserting photos and copying images.
Check out the videos which gives an example of how to use digital planners on Goodnotes and OneNote.
2. Digital or paper planner?
I discovered digital planning in 2017 and have loved it since, although I still have my beloved Filofax. Having used both digital planners and regular planners, here’s a summary of the pros and cons of each of these.
With a digital planner you can add stickers and images to your planner easily. You can duplicate all the stickers and use them again and again, unlike paper stickers where you need to top up your supply if you run out.
There’s lots of digital stickers available for purchase but you can also make your own stickers using free clipart on the internet so you don’t even have to spend anything.
Ok, I admit it, I’m a perfectionist. I had to use an erasable pen with my Filofax because I just hate messy handwriting or when I make a mistake. With digital planners, it’s super easy to fix any mistakes because you have an erase and undo function. No more covering up mistakes in my Filofax with washi tape!
There are lots of different colors and layouts available so you can find something that works for you (and maybe even achieve planner peace!). With most of our digital planners in the shop, we offer a bundle that includes both a vertical and a horizontal weekly layout so you have the options to use either.
There’s also lots of options of templates and you can even create your own, so you can have a planner that works perfectly for your planning needs.
When I was using a Filofax, I also made my own inserts but printing them out and cutting the pages to the correct size was a huge pain!
You can add photos directly from your device without needing to print it out and sticking it in. With a paper planner I always had intentions of adding photos but never got round to it, simply because it was too much hassle!
Some people like to use different planners for different purposes. I was using several different paper planners and found it hard to carry them with me everywhere. So I usually left my Filofax Malden at home and carried around a smaller planner. With digital planners, you can have as many planners as you want and be able to access them anywhere.
I don’t know about you but I babied my Filofaxes so much. I always took care not to overstuff them for fear of damaging the rings. And I NEVER put my Malden directly into my bag in case the leather got scratched by my keys. With a digital planner you can totally relax. Add as many pages and stickers as you like!
If you’ve never used a digital planner before, it will likely feel unfamiliar to you to begin with as you get to grips with how to use it. It gets a lot easier with practice, so I recommend you stick with it for a few weeks at least.
Also check out our YouTube channel videos.
I absolutely love the feel of my Filofax Malden and a digital planner doesn’t have that.
Personally I don’t mind this one but I know lots of people prefer writing on paper. There are some screen protectors that promise to make your screen feel like writing on paper but I haven’t tried these out myself.
You can use the bookmark function in some apps to bookmark pages but it’s still not as easy as simply putting in a tab on a paper planner and flipping to it.
It’s also easier to flip through the pages generally in a regular planner however if you choose a digital planner with lots of hyperlinks, it is still easy to navigate around.
3. Where can I try a free digital planner?
Before purchasing a digital planner, I strongly recommend trying a free version. There are various free versions available on the internet so you can see if digital planning is for you. Many shops do not provide refunds due to their digital nature, so trying out a free planner ensures that it works on your device.
Check out our free digital planner for Goodnotes, OneNote, Xodo, Notability and other PDF annotator apps.
It is best to buy from a shop which has a returns policy. I provide a 30-day money back guarantee on all products in our digital planner shop as I want all of our customers to be happy with their purchase.
4. How to learn digital planning?
There is a learning curve when starting out and it can take some time to get to grips. As digital planning involves using your tablet device, it is useful if you are comfortable with (or willing to learn) how to download files onto your device and install apps.
The best ways to learn are to:
The more comfortable you get, the more options you have to use other tools such as using cloud storage to sync between devices, using drawing apps to create decorations for your planner, cropping images and using unzip tools so you can download and collections of stickers.
5. Which is the best digital planning app?
The digital planning app best for you will depend on how you will use it and what functionality you need but I provide some brief recommendations below depending on your device.
iPad: Apple currently have the best apps for digital planning. Goodnotes is the most popular digital planning app. Notability is another great app and there are many articles which explore differences between the two. However, these are both only available on Apple devices so if you need to use your planner cross-platform, I recommend Microsoft OneNote.
Windows tablets: Windows doesn't currently have as many great digital planning apps but I do enjoy using Microsoft OneNote on Windows tablets and works great when using devices cross-platform.
Android tablets: Android has the most limited range of digital planning apps. OneNote is reasonable, although has less functionality that on other tablets. You also have Xodo, a free digital planning app, but it is less user-friendly than the other apps mentioned.
Cross-platform: If you want to use your digital planner app across devices, OneNote is the best app to use. It is free and can be used on Apple, Android and Windows devices.I will be creating a detailed review of the different apps shortly. Stay tuned!
6. What can you do in digital planning apps?
Nearly all digital planning apps have the following standard functionality:
- Ability to write with stylus
- Inserting text
- Inserting pages/templates
- Inserting photos/images
- Reposition items
- Copying items
However, there is some functionality only included in certain apps:
- Hyperlinks (limited functionality in OneNote)
- Ability to use cross-platform (mainly OneNote)
- Recording audio
- Selecting multiple images (Xodo is not able to copy multiple items but not move)
- Pulling in information from websites
- Using GIF animations
Its important to understand the differences so I've created a few videos which explores the functionality of each in more detail below:
6.1 Using OneNote for digital planning
Check out the video below which goes through the OneNote functionality, which covers:
- Zoom in and out of the digital planner using the page width tool or by pinching the screen.
- Use the navigation panel to jump to the different sections and pages within the planner.
- Populate the undated version of the planner.
- Undo or redo changes in the planner, as well as how to use the eraser tool.
- Use the stickers that come with the planner. To use the stickers, you need to go the stickers section, tap on text mode, select the sticker, long press and copy it, go back to where you want to paste it, long press and tap paste. You can then rotate, drag, and resize as needed.
- Using templates and talking through the index page of all the different template pages. You can tap on them to jump to the relevant template and then copy these pages and paste to a new section. You can do this by long pressing on the page in the navigation panel and selection Copy/Move. You can then rename the title of the duplicate page as needed.
- Using the divider pages to create your own tailored sections of templates.
6.2 Using Goodnotes for digital planning
- Navigating through your digital planner by swiping left and right.
- Using the home page hyperlinks to go to the templates you wish to use.
- Using the hyperlinks throughout the planner, including the tabs and weekly hyperlinks.
- Setting up undated planners so you’re able to use it year after year.
- Using divider pages so you can create certain topics and copying/pasting templates as needed.
- How to use the stickers pack in Goodnotes and how to copy/paste stickers as needed.
- Using the Goodnotes bookmark tool so you can jump to the relevant pages as needed.
7. How to choose your planner?
Before purchasing any planner, have a think about what type of planner you want to use.a. Purpose of your planner
Make sure you have thought about the purpose of your planner. The type of planner you need will depend on how you plan to use it and how often.
If you prefer writing your planner more like a physical notepad, consider whether you would prefer a portrait planner.c. Dated or undated
If you are new to digital planner, I would strongly recommend a dated planner. The dates are pre-populated so it saves you time setting it up and you can focus on the more fun aspects.
Undated version have the benefit of being able to use year after year but take more time to populate.d. Templates
Having the right templates for you can make a big difference on how useful the planner is for you. We have different planners for so they have more relevant pages:
Make sure when you purchase any stickers that they are pre-cropped, have transparent backgrounds and can be imported into your app. It can make a big difference to how your planner looks.Other items to consider:
8. Importing your planner
The import process will depend on your device and the file format you are provided. Check out our importing guides for our planners.
8.1 Importing into OneNote
Check out our OneNote importing guide.
8.2 Importing into Goodnotes
Check out our Goodnotes importing guide.
8.3 Importing into Notability
Check out our video on how to import into Notability.
8.4 Importing into Xodo
Check out our video on how to import into Xodo.
9. Customizing your planner
My favourite part of digital planning is decorating and customizing it! There are so many choices when deciding how you want to set it up and working out what will work best for you. Consider the following items:
I'll be expanding on this section shortly to provide digital planning tips.
See some of the spreads sent to us by our customers below:
10. Where can I find planner inspiration?
The best place to find examples of planner spreads are in Facebook groups. You can see what others have made and ask questions from other users. We have our own Happydownloads Facebook planning group here if you would like to join.
11. Where can I find planner freebies?
We have hundreds of free digital planner stickers and overlays. Just sign-up to our newsletter at the bottom of this screen for the password.
You can also have a look at digital planning hashtags and boards on Pinterest to find freebies from other creators.
13. How to sync digital planners
Digital planner apps will usually allow syncing between devices, so you can use different devices to make changes. I love OneNote for this as changes are almost immediate and you can share your notebook with others to contribute changes through OneDrive.
GoodNotes and Notability use iCloud storage to enable syncing between devices. It takes slightly longer to sync changes but still sufficient in nearly all situations.
Xodo syncing also is possible by saving your file on cloud storage. You can access the file from other devices but I do have a warning! I have encountered bugs where changes either take a long time to save or do not save at all. I recommend saving a different version of the file on your Cloud device when you do not want any risk of losing the changes you have made.
Check out the video below for syncing on OneNote, Goodnotes and Notability:
I hope you have found this digital planning guide for beginners helpful. Please feel free to reach out and let me know if there is anything specific you want like to see added.
Check out our planners and stickers in our digital planner shop. We do offer a 30-day money back guarantee and aim to make all out customers happy.